The Basic Procedure
Here are the subheadings from the exercise which lay out the basic steps of this very simple procedure:
Agree on a signal during a peaceful time
Set a timer and take a seat
Use the timer to keep turns exactly even
Yell at a blank wall, if needed
Just keep going
Caution: Professional help needed?
Online support for conflict resolution
And those are the basics of this very simple procedure, which can be taught to anyone in five minutes.
Is It Really That Easy?
Probably not. No, it will not be 100% effective. However, to be a "statistically significant" help, it would only have to work 60% of the time. And, after thirty years experience with it, that seems extremely likely.
And, I have not found anything else, short of professional counseling or mediation (and often, even then, I think this more powerful), which has a chance to become such a widespread "cure" for conflict.
Why does it work?
When people can speak without being interrupted, and without fear of interruption, they automatically become able to speak from their "intuitive feel" of the issue or situation, The Creative Edge, not the already-known logical arguments that cycle around and around without changing. It is from The Creative Edge, this "intuitive knowing" of the whole situation, that new ideas and action steps can arise.
And, when people share from The Creative Edge, and listen to each other, they become vulnerable, authentic, honest. They say what they really want and need. They become "lovable" and move the other person to compassion and a wish to find a solution. So, even "passive listening" creates the capacity for love and understanding.
Example: Two People Arguing In A Store
Two people are arguing loudly in a store, screaming back and forth at each other. Their child is standing nearby, forgotten in their fury. Let's imagine, in our new world where everyone, and I mean everyone, knows about taking passive listening turns for conflict resolution - just like everyone knows about reading and writing, or standing in line, or how to use an implement for eating.
So, a sales person or other staff of the store, or simply a bystander, another citizen, can simply say, "Oh, let me help you use Passive Listening Turns." Mind you, this has become a cultural norm, just like driving on the right or left side of the street. Maybe there are even special rooms in public places where people can retreat for Passive Listening Turns. Maybe there are even specially trained mediators around, like there might be police or traffic cops.
So, because it is a norm they have been brought up with since childhood, the arguing people stop in their tracks and say, "Oh. Thanks. We had forgotten ourselves. And take their seats in the "safe place" set aside for such conflict processing (like everywhere there are bathrooms, baby changing tables, benches to rest, bus kiosks, first aid stations). And set the timer kept available.
So, they flip a coin to see who goes first, five minute or ten minute equal turns.
She starts. She is furious, not looking at him, sighing, turning from side to side, would really like to be still engaged in that furious tangle of yelling back and forth. She decides she needs to "yell at the wall" for a while, let some steam off before she can get any deeper into what is going on (but, remember, this kind of conflict processing is a "habit" in the culture, practiced since childhood, so she knows how to do it, what to expect, what to look for inside, eventually, the "hook" between them)
So, she yells at the wall for about three minutes, using swear words, saying all the worst she thinks about him and his behavior: "You selfish b______. I work so hard and you do nothing. I'm not letting you spend my money on that s____. I am furious. I am so tired of this and of you", etc.
But, without response, pretty soon this energy runs out, runs down, and she begins to cry: "I'm just so tired. I'm so tired of our never getting ahead. I'm worried that your work is slowing down. I just can't do it any more, carry all these burdens." Her five minutes (or ten, whatever they negotiated) is up.
His turn begins (he is not so mad any more, having heard her words, seen her tears, seen her tiredness instead of just her anger): "I can't go without something special. I just need to spend $10 once and a while on something that is just for fun. I can't stand the drudgery, everything always the same. I wanted these sports cards because, for a few minutes, I could be happy looking at them----I'm scared about my job, about the work slowing down --- I don't like it that you are making more money than me. I don't like it that you treat me like a little boy getting an allowance--- it makes me furious and ashamed."
Not a total solution yet, but a "softening" on each side. It may take more turns. It may take more sessions. It may take professional help at some point. But, in this moment, the "horns locked" energy between them has been broken. Hopefully, they now have some "free emotional space" to care for their child, to not let the rage wash over there as well.
As long as they are not allowed (and have been trained from childhood how not to allow themselves) to get physically violent, or to shout back and forth, the angry assault will lose its fuel, and something new, a more Creative Edge, will arise in each of them, a more compassionate "touching," more sympathy for each other. More willingness to look for solutions.
Please try out the protocol with your significant others this week. When there is not an argument happening, come to mutually understand the rules, find a safe spot, get a timer, and establish a "signal," like "popcorn" that anyone (including your children) to remind you that a bad pattern of "assault" or "argument" is starting, and it is time to try Passive Listening Turns. Then, you can begin to be prepared when an actual argument arises.